Keeping kids lead free

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Lead poisoning is a serious problem across the developed as well as the developing world. Childhood lead poisoning is still one of the most important health issues in the United States today. According to recent CDC estimates, 890,000 U.S. children age 1-5 have elevated blood lead levels, and more than one-fifth of African-American children living in housing built before 1946 have elevated blood lead levels.[1]

Why should I be aware of this?

A heavy metal, lead is poisonous. It can slow mental and physical growth and make a person, specially a child very sick. For these reasons, it is important to know where lead might show up in the surroundings so that it can be avoided.

How does this affect me?

  • Lead is harmful to the developing nervous systems of fetuses and young children.
  • Extremely high blood lead levels can cause severe neurologic problems (e.g., seizure, coma, and death).
  • In some cases, lead poisoning can be so subtle that the affected child may not show any clear physical signs.
  • All children are susceptible to lead poisoning from many known and hidden sources of lead.

All about lead exposure to kids

About 1 million children in the U.S. under the age of 6 have elevated lead levels in their blood; lead is considered one of the most significant environmental health threats.

  • House paints -- Prior to 1950, lead-based paint was used on the inside and outside of most homes. In 1977, US federal regulations virtually eliminated lead from paint for general use. But in the US homes built prior to 1977 are likely to contain lead-based paint.
  • Soil --Soil (dirt) near heavily-used streets and roads may contain lead because earlier gasoline contained lead. Lead may also be found in the soil next to homes that previously had been painted with lead-based paint. Lead in the soil can contribute to high levels of lead in household dust.
  • Drinking water -- Lead may get into drinking water when materials used in plumbing, such as pipes, lead-based solders, brass and chrome plated faucets, begin to corrode (break down).

Who is at risk?

  • Lead poisoning occurs most often among inner-city, low-income children. However, children from any income level can be at risk for lead poisoning.

How can you protect your child from lead poisoning?

  • Know the sources of lead.
  • Have your child’s blood checked for lead.
  • Clean Hard Surfaces Often -- Wet mop and wet wipe hard surfaces, like floors, window sills and doors.
  • Feed your child regular, nutritious meals and snacks -- Less lead is absorbed when a child eats regularly. More lead is absorbed when the stomach is empty.
  • Wash your child’s hands, toys, pacifiers -- Young children often put their hands or objects in their mouths. Keep your children’s hands as clean as possible, especially when they eat and before they go to sleep.

Government action

1991, USCDC recommended universal screening of children aged 12--72 months. However, a 1994 national survey reported that only one fourth of young children had been screened, including less than one third of those at increased risk.

What can I do?

To prevent calcium and lead from leaving bones and increasing blood lead levels, include foods with calcium every day. Include iron-rich foods every day to decrease lead absorption.

  • Do not heat or cook food in the can it comes in. Also avoid storing food in a can that has been opened, especially if has acidic content such as fruits and fruit juices.
  • Do not wrap food in newspapers, magazines and plastic bags because they may contain lead-based ink.
  • Children's diets should include low-fat foods that will provide at least 10 milligrams a day of iron and 800 milligrams a day of calcium to help decrease susceptibility to lead poisoning.

Unlearn

Hidden sources of lead

  • Chipping and peeling paint from old sink and tubs.
  • Lead in some hobby and craft supply
  • Lead in remodelling debris and dust
  • Exterior flaking paint
  • Food served or stored in lead glazed pottery
  • Older play equipments
  • Lead from emission of cars which burn lead gasoline, resting in the soil of yards, gardens or playgrounds near busy streets and highways.
  • Lead paint in walls, window sills, woodworks and toys.
  • Lead is also found in some fishing weights, old and imported toys, artist’s paints, folk remedies and jewelry.
  • Old miniblinds might have lead in them. When purchasing miniblinds, look for information about lead on the package, such as “non-leaded” or “new non-leaded formulation.”

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How are babies exposed to lead before birth?

Babies are exposed to lead in the womb when their mothers have lead in their blood. The transfer of lead to the baby is greatest during the last three months of pregnancy when the baby’s growth is most rapid.

What can a mother with lead in her blood do to protect her baby?

  • She can eat plenty of calcium-rich foods during pregnancy since most of the lead in her body may be stored in her bones. Like calcium, lead can leave bones and travel in the blood. If she gets plenty of calcium during pregnancy, she is less likely to lose calcium and lead from her bones than if she does not get enough calcium.

References

  • Keep Your Kids Lead-free
  • Surveillance for Elevated Blood Lead Levels Among Children --- United States, 1997--2001
  • NIEHS Kids' Pages Index-- Lead poisoning
  • Know Where Lead Might be Hiding
  • What You Should Know About Lead and Children

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